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7. Measuring Forever

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A legend now, long since dead, once said that, “Forever is a hell of a long time.” She might’ve been a genius; she might have been insane. Either way, the statement is fairly valid. Nothing is ever, “for sure,” there’s always a chance, the slight possibility. You never know, right? There’s no such thing as a “fair bet,” never. Regardless, she was right – forever does just so happen to be quite a long time.

I got home sometime in the early morning and went straight to sleep. All manner of bizarre dreams haunted my subconscious as I struggled to maintain my sanity. Stories, people, places, all manner of crazy notions upset my fragile mind. I remembered the box being taken from me, or I thought I remembered it. Separating reality from fiction became more complicated the harder I tried. Eventually, I was left to forfeit to sleep; I just stopped caring. And the darkness took over.

I woke up to Deklyn lurking around. He was just wandering aimlessly, poking things here and there. He was looking around curiously, amused. I felt confused – he seemed so childish, naive, sometimes innocent. It was ironic, how misleading it could be, our perceptions versus reality. He looked over at me casually.

“So this is where the damned sleep?” Before I could question him, he started moving again. “Where’s the box?”

And that’s when the waking and the dreaming merged. I realized that I didn’t know. I was scared to face him. But he knew, he knew without words. I sat up in bed and turned away from him. Deklyn edged closer.

“Where is it, Harvey? Don’t tell me you lost it. Do you have any idea how important that gun is? Harvey!” My silence bothered him; he jumped onto the bed and grabbed me. He shook me by my shoulders. “Say it! Tell me that it’s gone!” I tried to reply, but all that remained was silence. He scared the life out of me, yet I found my voice.

“I know who has it.”

“You do huh? So why do they have it?”

“I don’t know.”

He only seemed to get more upset. He took me by the throat and forced me to face him. His eyes narrowed, “What do you say we go collect it?”

Then salvation came. Uncle Declan’s voice called from outside the door, my cousin jumped back immediately. Ironic, the big drug dealer was terrified of dear old dad. Hilarious.

My cousin might have been a schizo, bipolar at least. He scared me more than I cared to realize. And he’s family. He left – confused, slightly lost. And I sat on my bed, quiet. My uncle came in shortly after, I remember muttering wasted responses to him. My dear uncle cared about me sincerely. His wife was suspicious of me, or so it seemed. She barely spoke to me and on the rare occasion that she did, she never had anything worthwhile to say. Worthwhile, it would be more accurate to use the word, “positive”. But she was family. And maybe she was right.

Uncle Declan sat with me a while. He was one of my favorite relatives. I only ever saw him truly upset once – when Mom died. They truly were something. Truly something. He was his sister’s keeper. And to keep my mom is something remarkable. He kept to it, always loyal to her. And when he lost his charge, he snapped. But he bounced back. After a month of drinking and outbursts, he came back. He’d been to Hell and back. His sister’s keeper. And he was good at it. Absolutely amazing. And he was like Darius, he knew everything, he just kept it carefully locked away until it was absolutely necessary. I think he knew about his son’s illegal activities. What he did to stop him, if anything, I don’t know. But he knew it all. As his only niece, he treated me as Mom’s replacement. I loved him dearly.

“So kid, you’re getting on up there in years huh?” He smiled wide, content with himself at the moment. He looked me over carefully. “Have you been good?”

“Of course, Uncle Declan.”

“That’s my girl.”

“Always.”

“You sure? Maybe you’ll change your mind and you won’t be mine anymore.”

“Only if you don’t want me.”

He bear-hugged me. “Want you? You’re never leaving my sight. You get any prettier, I’ll be your constant bodyguard, got to keep the loons away.”

“You’re silly.”

And he took a deep bow. “Thank you. But at least I’m an honest sort of silly, instead of a silly sort of honest.”

“I didn’t know that there were sorts.”

“Of course.”

“Since when?”

He was still smiling. “Since always.”

Our conversations were usually abrupt like that. We were family, we didn’t need long explanations. They were a waste of our borrowed time. It should be a sin to waste time. At least a crime. In the end, I hugged him and he left and I was happy. He could always make me smile. Always. I changed and went out to make an appearance.

Now remember, Dad’s blind. He’s been that way for years, I don’t think he knows that I’m a freak, which is better. Yet, knowing his Goth past, he might be proud to have paved the way for another misfit. He’s a weird one. They were sitting around the living room – Declan, Hope, the three kids, my father and Jack. Dear Jack, despite our differences, he wouldn’t forsake me on my day. We all sat around and told stories, fool’s stories, but stories nonetheless. Rook was the odd one out; she couldn’t understand that we were freaks. She might’ve been slightly appalled. But we didn’t care. Deklyn stayed mostly silent, Salem contributed. There was an exchange of pleasantries before we all opted to go out for a while. My father missed the waking world – it was a happy return.

We walked awhile, as it tradition with us, it’s a sort of family dysfunction. Rook was complaining the entire trip; she bothers me you know. Just a bit. Just because she’s so ignorant. And Salem loved it, I spoke to him most of the time. He’d be a good one when he got older, a freak, but still a good one. People kept out of our way as we passed, it was easy to understand why. There were seven, no, eight of us total, mostly in black, decked out from head to toe. We did seem slightly intimidating. And my father had his seeing-eye dog, a beautiful black lab named Shadow. Anyway, back to point.

We walked even when it began to rain, despite Rook’s protests. My dear uncle was sick of her too. She kept whimpering, he grabbed her and threw her into an alley. She didn’t scream, the look of surprise on her face told why. He composed himself.

“For just a moment, just once in your life, can you act like my child?” And he turned away. We all looked on in horror, but I couldn’t stop smiling. Aunt Hope was frozen, speech left her, just…frozen. She wasn’t angry or upset either. Declan went to her, his jaw set and she hugged and kissed him. We started to walk back home; Rook fell in step begrudgingly behind us.

And the day was only half done. My family stayed with Dad a while, I opted to go visit the shop. Salem opted to go along, my uncle wouldn’t let Deklyn go. Like I said, he knew everything. So we set out for the shop, walking again, talking quietly. Salem was clever, he was quiet, but his mind was always working. He had the potential to be highly dangerous, he just chose not to be. Could you imagine?

The shop wasn’t all that busy, everyone was glad to see me. Darius and Raine were floating around somewhere, I was glad to be there, even though it was my day off. I introduced Salem around a bit; he fit in with the misfits perfectly. I strayed away to talk to Darius, who was sitting at the counter, reading quietly. I stood over her.

“Where is it?”

She looked up with a childishly innocent grin. “Where is what? Are you all right?” She kind of smiled past me as Raine swept by and stood with her. The two of them could be so horribly sinister if and when they wanted to. I could feel my spirit breaking – I couldn’t take them on. I stood my ground for a moment, waiting to break. They nodded their surrender; my box was produced from under the counter. It was just as I’d left it, I could’ve cried.

“How did you know about it?”

“Because we know all the stories…and besides, these streets were ours long before they were ever Vincent’s. Remember, nothing is trivial, all knowledge is useful.” Darius’ voice stopped, she was leaving herself open. Raine stepped up to cover for her.

“You should learn to use it properly, it’s a nice decoration, but throwing it isn’t very effective. I can show you, if you wish.”

“If I needed to use it, I imagine I could figure it out.”

“Could you? How about defending yourself if it’s taken from you?”

In a series of motions, Raine was over the counter, grabbed the box and had the pistol leveled at me. His hand didn’t shake, he didn’t blink, he barely breathed. And I was shocked, everything just stopped. And dear Darius just sat and smiled, indifferent. It was like a circus act, I stood there as Darius got up and crept over. She stepped in front of me with a confident grin on her. Blink and you would have missed it. She hit him, turned his hand around and the next thing you saw, he was on the floor as she waved my gun triumphantly. She handed it to me, bent down to Raine and helped him up. With a hug and a kiss, his pride was restored. Blink and you would have missed it. I think they’re insane. I had the gun in hand, I couldn’t move. They were laughing and smiling. I just stood there. I couldn’t decide whether to be angry or scared. Darius crept up to me slowly, she walked in this funny crooked, childish way, diagonal steps. She touched me and I remember jumping, I don’t remember why. The eyes softened and she started digging through her pockets. She produced a cigarette and sent me away. I could hear Raine’s protestation to her as I walked out, then he was silent.

“I can’t win with you, can I?” he muttered.

And her reply was simply, “Nope, but you’re more than welcome to try.” They were kissing when I looked back, I sat out in the alley to be alone, my mind racing. I took out paper and wrote as the shaking stopped. The usual shadow came from nowhere, Vincent, as per usual. He wandered his way over slowly; smoking himself, he was oddly at ease. I was under a slight overhang to keep from the rain.

“Hell of a day, right kid? Merry happy, you know?” He sat himself down next to me, looking at me sideways. “What’d I tell you about smoking?”

I smiled at him, “That you’re a hypocrite and I can do whatever I want.”

And he laughed. He’s insane you know. He patted me on the head, “Good kid.” I could’ve killed him, but he sauntered away free and clean. Or partially. He just kind of paced around in the rain.

“You don’t have rules, do you?”

“I don’t like cages.”

‘Well now, that’s silly. Some are necessary.”

“Name one necessary cage.”

“One? Devotion. How about loyalty? Or trust? How about love?’

“I don’t believe in love.”

It was now that he stopped. He came at me and grabbed my arm swiftly. Despite my efforts, he was like a vice. He turned the arm over and pointed to the fresh ink. I stopped my struggles, he held tight.

‘Now, what was that you were saying?”

“If love proves real. That’s different.”

“I don’t see how so or why.”

I pulled myself away and moved to leave, “You will.”

He laughed a little, bouncing on his toes. “Promise?”

“I don’t make promises.”

“How about an arrangement?”

“Not those either.”

“No cages, right?” He seemed pleased with himself.

“Forget the cage – no chains.”

“Someone ought to break you.”

This is where I turned to meet his gaze. “Someone ought to try.”

And I went back to the parlor. Everyone was back to where they were when I came in. Salem was talking to Raine. He seemed to be enjoying himself. He’d probably end up here in later years; most of the family goes through here. Darius and Raine made room for people – there was always room for one more. As the night settled down, I decided to get home. I collected my box and Salem and we left. I walked him home first, he didn’t live far. Then I was on my way, Jack met me along the way.

I felt better talking to Jack. It’d been a while since we spoke seriously. He’s been worried about me, I can’t say that I blame him. Smoking annoyed him, I promised to quit shortly, I just liked how it stopped my shaking. He let it go and we talked plainly. He held me as we walked – I loved knowing he was there. If everything else around me shattered, he’d still be there to help me pick up the pieces. Jack was comforting. He only spoke when he absolutely had to, but even his silence was calming. He was forgiving of my ignorance, which is a characteristic that’s very rare in our day and age. Home wasn’t far away, our trip was quick. Jack lived with us, having nowhere else to go. He was like a brother to me, my father remembered him when he was a mere boy. Our stories are bizarre. That’s the family for you.

The boy was somewhat typical but it was interesting I suppose. I was in my room considering the day’s events when I heard a noise outside. And the stalker returned. I got up quickly to let him in as he clawed the window sheepishly.

“That wasn’t supposed to be locked.”

“What the hell is it with you? Don’t you have better things to do? Important people to kill, a life?” I kept my voice low to avoid waking my sleeping father.

“Calm down tiger, I forgot to give you something, merry happy.” He threw me a box and he was gone again. I looked at it cautiously, considering my options. Curiosity for the best of me and I opened it. Inside was a letter, long, carefully written. Under it was a chain – long, silver. And a bullet hung from it. Written on it in nice black letters were a few short statements. “Harvey Riley,” was the top line, and under it was, “A promise kept.” I couldn’t figure out if the bullet was real, it seemed real enough. I kept it around my neck and it stayed there always. I don’t know why I kept it; the thought kind of scared me. And yet, I kept it. I might be a freak. And I sat down and read the letter that accompanied the solitary bullet. I read it over and over again until I couldn’t bear to see it any longer. And I tucked it between my writing because it is crucial to my downfall. Vincent’s letter of un-harnessed honesty and nightmarish evil haunted me, and yet…I cried.

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